Knowing that I used to be a strategy consultant, a colleague forwarded me a link to a post on the industry from Overcoming Bias. Robin Hanson’s blog is in my newsfeed, but I’d missed this post, which is a suggestion that firms hire consultants purely to break internal coalitions blocking change. My colleague comments that he wouldn’t be so dismissive of the ‘best practice’ explanation, with which I agree. Both explanations seem right to me. There may be other explanations too: for example, the need for instant-on brains without the hassle of a recruitment round and short-term employment contracts. (It’s at this point that I should mention that anyone with a background in consulting will probably enjoy this site – although it’s not one to read in public.)
Consulting can add huge value to organisations. Note the use of ‘can’: my claim is deliberately conditional. When done badly, consulting can knock value off firms. That is the point made well by this piece from The Tech. Although you must always be sceptical about the tone of articles such as this, especially when the paint a picture of personal moral superiority, it does contain some passages that will ring true from most consultants, like this:
This leads to what I like to call, “Find me a rock” problems. The classic “find me a rock” story is as follows: A manager goes to his engineer one day and asks for a rock. “A rock?” asks the engineer. “Yes, a rock. That isn’t going to be a problem, is it?” replies the manager. The engineer laughs and tells the manager he’ll go pick one up during his lunch break and it will be no problem. After lunch, the manager visits the engineer again and the engineer shows him the rock. The manager looks at it for a moment before telling the engineer, “No, that one won’t work at all. I need a rock.”
“Find me a rock” problems sound dead simple, but in actuality have requirements that are poorly stated or unknown. You never know what you’re looking for; you only know that you’ll know it when you see it.
If only badly specified requests were limited to consulting.
As a legacy of my work with MTM London, I am very interested in how technology can change business models. Crowdsourcing seems very in at the moment. Some of the developments I have been following include:
- Victors & Spoils – ‘the world’s first creative (ad) agency built on crowdsourcing principles
- The Tuttle Club’s model of collaborative social-media consulting (although I am unclear how they split the fees)
- 99 Designs, CrowdSPRING, Genius Rocket – crowdsourced design